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Rivera v. Bonner

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 6, 2017

EZMERELDA RIVERA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
A. J. BONNER; DAVID B. MULL, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before PRADO, HIGGINSON, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.

          EDWARD C. PRADO, Circuit Judge:

         In December 2014, Appellant Ezmerelda Rivera was sexually assaulted by Manuel Fierros, an officer at the Hale County Jail. Rivera subsequently brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Fierros, Hale County Sheriff David Mull, and Hale County Jail Administrator A.J. Bonner. Rivera claimed that Mull and Bonner (collectively, "Appellees") were deliberately indifferent in hiring Fierros and that they inadequately trained and supervised jail employees. The district court granted summary judgment and dismissed Rivera's claims against Appellees. We AFFIRM.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Fierros was hired as a jailer at the Hale County Jail in October 2012. During the hiring process, Appellees became aware that Fierros had been arrested on two occasions when he was fifteen years old-once in Randall County and once in Potter County-for indecency with a child by sexual contact. After learning about these arrests, Bonner purportedly called the Randall County district attorney's and probation offices as well as the Potter County district attorney's office to inquire about the incidents. Bonner claims that no records of the arrests were found, the individuals he spoke with had no knowledge of the charges, and "no convictions [were] shown."

         In July 2014, a senior jailer at the Hale County Jail sexually abused a female detainee. The jailer stood outside the detainee's cell and directed her to perform sexual acts on herself. This incident was caught on the jail's video surveillance system and was reported to jail authorities by another officer who observed the abuse. After an investigation, the jailer admitted to the abuse and resigned. In subsequent staff briefings, jail officials purportedly reminded jail staff that sexual exploitation of detainees was prohibited, but they did not implement any additional training regarding sexual misconduct. Jail officials also displayed a poster at the facility that showed a red prohibition sign across the words "sex with inmates, " followed by "it's a felony." No policies or procedures were revised in response to the incident.

         Approximately six months later, in the early morning hours of December 14, 2014, Rivera was arrested for public intoxication in connection with her husband's arrest for driving while intoxicated. Both Rivera and her husband were transported to the Hale County Jail, where Fierros was the officer in charge that night. After Rivera arrived at the jail, a female officer took her into a private room and instructed her to change into orange scrubs with no undergarments underneath. Fierros then took over the booking process. Fierros escorted Rivera into the jail's "multipurpose room, " which was used by the jail for bookings and arraignments, as well as for inmates to meet with attorneys and chaplains. The room was not monitored by video surveillance. Fierros instructed two female jailers to exit the room, leaving him alone with Rivera. Fierros then groped Rivera's breasts and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Fierros was left alone with Rivera for approximately fifty-five minutes, during which time he left and reentered the room at various times. Rivera was released from the jail the following day. After Rivera filed a complaint with state law enforcement, she was informed that Fierros had confessed to sexually assaulting her.

         In March 2015, Rivera filed this suit against Fierros and Appellees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition to claims against Fierros, Rivera brought Fourteenth Amendment claims against Appellees, asserting that they were deliberately indifferent to the risks associated with hiring Fierros and that they inadequately trained and supervised jail employees. Appellees moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment and dismissed Rivera's claims against Appellees. This appeal followed.


         "We review a summary judgment de novo, 'using the same standard as that employed by the district court under Rule 56.'" Newman v. Guedry, 703 F.3d 757, 761 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Kerstetter v. Pac. Sci. Co., 210 F.3d 431, 435 (5th Cir. 2000)). Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, public officials "are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The Supreme Court has "mandated a two-step sequence for resolving government officials' qualified immunity claims." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). A court must decide (1) "whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged . . . make out a violation of a constitutional right" and (2) "whether the right at issue was 'clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct." Id. Importantly, the Supreme Court held in Pearson that courts "should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand." Id. at 236. At the same time, the Supreme Court recognized that deciding the two prongs in order "is often beneficial." Id.

         When an official pleads qualified immunity, "the burden then shifts to the plaintiff, who must rebut the defense by establishing a genuine fact issue as to whether the official's allegedly wrongful conduct violated clearly established law." Brown v. Callahan, 623 F.3d 249, 253 (5th Cir. 2010). However, "[b]ecause this case arises in a summary judgment posture, we view the facts in the light most favorable to [Rivera], the nonmoving party." City & County of San Francisco v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1769 (2015). That is, "[t]he evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor." Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014) (per curiam) (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

         A. Deliberate ...

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